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The Iowa Indians Meet Tom Thumb in London: George Catlin’s European Exhibitions

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Abstract:

I recently published an article on George Catlin’s seven-year project in the western territories to collect, classify, and represent its “vanishing” peoples in American Studies (summer 2005). I have now begun work that examines Catlin’s efforts to commodify and objectify his experiences in the West in the cultural markets of Europe, where the realities of fickle popular tastes and erratic profit margins would eventually lead Catlin to borrow from the sideshow model of display made so successful by his contemporary P.T. Barnum. My work fits nicely with this year’s focus on “Transhemispheric Visions and Community Connections,” in that my paper will focus exclusively on Catlin’s exhibition of fourteen Iowa Indians in his traveling museum in 1844—he toured Europe with the Iowas through the summer of 1845—particularly his efforts to market and commodify the Iowa as an exemplum of American identity destined to “vanish.”

As a collector and exhibitor of Native American culture, Catlin walked a fine line between aesthetic, ethical, and entrepreneurial values, and nowhere is this better illustrated than in his association with Iowas, who were originally imported by P.T. Barnum and then managed by Catlin. After an unsuccessful run with a somewhat unruly group of Ojibwa Indians the year before, with the Iowas Catlin was much more calculating in crafting an exhibition that catered to white spectators’ expectations and desires, and his use of advertisements, newspaper reports, and marketing techniques is a study in proto-“Wild West” showmanship.

This past summer I had a research grant to study Catlin’s advertising strategies in London at the British Library’s Periodical and Newspaper library, and I focused on approximately fifteen London dailies and weeklies published over a two month period in the summer of 1844. Catlin’s travelogue, Notes on Eight Years Travels and Residence in Europe, describes two particularly public exhibitions of the Iowas in London, the first at the Lord's Cricket Grounds for one week, and the second at Vauxhall Gardens for two weeks. However, he makes little mention of the hundreds of advertisements I discovered he placed during this period, nor does he discuss his complex relationship with the media (the fact that different “reporters” wrote nearly identical stories about the exhibitions suggests that Catlin was one of the first Americans to master the art of the “press release”). Although I am still in the process of analyzing the raw data I accumulated, I made some startling and original discoveries. For instance, P.T. Barnum's Tom Thumb, who was also making the London rounds that same summer, actually made an appearance with Catlin's Iowas at Vauxhall, in the debut of his miniature carriage, purported to be the smallest ever built. This fact about Catlin was until now unknown, and part of my paper will investigate Catlin's partnership with Barnum and his use of a tiny white male in tandem with his "wild" Indians, a classic pairing of the civil and the savage.
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Name: The American Studies Association
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Masters, Joshua. "The Iowa Indians Meet Tom Thumb in London: George Catlin’s European Exhibitions" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186299_index.html>

APA Citation:

Masters, J. J. , 2007-10-11 "The Iowa Indians Meet Tom Thumb in London: George Catlin’s European Exhibitions" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186299_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: I recently published an article on George Catlin’s seven-year project in the western territories to collect, classify, and represent its “vanishing” peoples in American Studies (summer 2005). I have now begun work that examines Catlin’s efforts to commodify and objectify his experiences in the West in the cultural markets of Europe, where the realities of fickle popular tastes and erratic profit margins would eventually lead Catlin to borrow from the sideshow model of display made so successful by his contemporary P.T. Barnum. My work fits nicely with this year’s focus on “Transhemispheric Visions and Community Connections,” in that my paper will focus exclusively on Catlin’s exhibition of fourteen Iowa Indians in his traveling museum in 1844—he toured Europe with the Iowas through the summer of 1845—particularly his efforts to market and commodify the Iowa as an exemplum of American identity destined to “vanish.”

As a collector and exhibitor of Native American culture, Catlin walked a fine line between aesthetic, ethical, and entrepreneurial values, and nowhere is this better illustrated than in his association with Iowas, who were originally imported by P.T. Barnum and then managed by Catlin. After an unsuccessful run with a somewhat unruly group of Ojibwa Indians the year before, with the Iowas Catlin was much more calculating in crafting an exhibition that catered to white spectators’ expectations and desires, and his use of advertisements, newspaper reports, and marketing techniques is a study in proto-“Wild West” showmanship.

This past summer I had a research grant to study Catlin’s advertising strategies in London at the British Library’s Periodical and Newspaper library, and I focused on approximately fifteen London dailies and weeklies published over a two month period in the summer of 1844. Catlin’s travelogue, Notes on Eight Years Travels and Residence in Europe, describes two particularly public exhibitions of the Iowas in London, the first at the Lord's Cricket Grounds for one week, and the second at Vauxhall Gardens for two weeks. However, he makes little mention of the hundreds of advertisements I discovered he placed during this period, nor does he discuss his complex relationship with the media (the fact that different “reporters” wrote nearly identical stories about the exhibitions suggests that Catlin was one of the first Americans to master the art of the “press release”). Although I am still in the process of analyzing the raw data I accumulated, I made some startling and original discoveries. For instance, P.T. Barnum's Tom Thumb, who was also making the London rounds that same summer, actually made an appearance with Catlin's Iowas at Vauxhall, in the debut of his miniature carriage, purported to be the smallest ever built. This fact about Catlin was until now unknown, and part of my paper will investigate Catlin's partnership with Barnum and his use of a tiny white male in tandem with his "wild" Indians, a classic pairing of the civil and the savage.

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